Teachings from Nch’kay’: The Story Behind the Most Notable Peak in Garibaldi Provincial Park

Although B.C.’s Garibaldi Provincial Park is nearly a century old, the land has been a beacon of human resilience for millennia. Indigenous teachings about its most prominent peak reveal striking parallels to modern challenges. And for some, the protection and preservation of this land is a generational task.

Overlooking Howe Sound and the lower Squamish Valley, the park’s namesake mountain massif is a stratovolcano called Nch’kay’ by the Skwxwú7mesh people. The name, which translates to “dirty water” or “grimy one,” refers to how its volcanic dust drifts into the Cheekeye River. For thousands of years, local First Nations have depended on the tallest mountain in their homelands for trapping, foraging, purification voyages, and harvesting obsidian rock for tools and trade.

“Our land is laden with place names, mythology, and stories that remind us, as Skwxwú7mesh people, of who we are and what those places are used for,” says Chris Syeta’xtn Lewis, spokesperson and councillor for the Squamish Nation. “Our elders tell us that Nch’kay’ was a place of refuge during the flood, which is kind of a universal story [across many Indigenous cultures]—that there were apocalyptic floods.”

Lewis describes how ancestors fled in canoes, fastening cedar ropes to the top of Nch’kay’ to ride out the flood. According to legend, a few boats broke away and floated to Xwsa7k (Mount Baker), home of the Nooksack people, who share similar stories of kinship.

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PUBLICATION: Mountain Life Coast Mountains

Photo: Amber Turnau, Substrate Studios

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